Thursday, January 28, 2010

Success Elements in Our Schools

First appeared in the column Steven's Window, The National newspaper. 29th January 2010.

This is the time of the year our young people prepare themselves to enter a new grade or educational institution. Many children at the primary and secondary levels have their paths cut out for them. The ones entering the universities are excited with beginning their first years at the highest learning institutions in the country. Most will go through the process with high expectations and dreams of the kind of person they will become after four years of tertiary education. Their fertile minds are ready to tackle the intellectual challenges before them.

Three important elements are at work in the success of students reaching the university level: First, the last school the students attended is the first element. Top ranking schools often have a high number of students entering university. The second element is the advice and direction provided by guidance teachers, parents, guardians. Many depend on their guidance teachers in upper secondary schools. Others with educated parents and guardians follow what they want them to do. The third element is the individual choices that each student made last year as they thought about what they wanted to do.

In thinking about these three elements I recall the journey I took in my own life. The school I went to is a Catholic boarding school only for boys known as St. Xaviers High School. The Marist Brothers ran the school. The school has the motto: duc in altum, meaning reach for the highest, enjoyed the reputation of being one of the best in the country. Every boy who went to that school strived to live up to that motto. Every year the boys left their crying parents and relatives at the old Wewak wharf or at the Wom Beach to travel by boat for two hours to reach Kairiru Island. The boys stayed on the Island for the whole year, except for the one week mid-term break and the Christmas break. The boys were either 13 or 14 years old the first time they leave their families to go away to the island to grow up, get schooled, and disciplined in their attitudes, manners, outlook of life, and the kind of life they want to lead in later years. Prayer, study, and work were the three important elements that the school enforced in its efforts to produce the best students in the country.

The school, however, is no longer a top secondary school in the country. The school standard has dropped over the years. The education authorities have watched the school go from being one of the best schools to being one of the last schools in the country.

I responded, like everyone else, to the school’s motto: duc in altum. We wanted to reach the highest level in our chosen paths, careers, and lives. We wanted to compete with everyone else in Papua New Guinea to get the top spot in the country. We had the privilege of mission education with its pious regime of constant prayer, fellowship, and intellectual commitment to our goals. Good Christian, respectful, and disciplined values kept us at bay. We remained true to these values and expectations that denied us the teenage temptations of spending wasteful time chasing girls or talking to them. We had no problems with alcohol, drugs, guns, and violence, unlike today’s high school students. We were content with our lives in school away from the luxury of our homes and relatives.

To get from grade 8 to grade 9 was the first real challenge. We completed grade 10 before moving into the job markets, national high schools, and the universities. The decisions we made at that time to continue on with our education were done with the best advice from our guidance teachers.

I had the best guidance of both worlds, so to speak. Getting into the national high school in the days when only the top 10 percent were given the opportunity was possible for me with the guidance of the good principal Brother Peter Cassidy. Whereas the advice I received in national high school to enter the University of Papua New Guinea was a cold shower, to say the least. Not because it was to wake me up to the reality, but because it was given with absolute decree that because I have an average grade in English, I would perform poorly in the field I chose to do since I was a kid. Notwithstanding I out performed such poor guidance and expectations without having to ignore the challenges that came with being in such a situation.

Now a days it is the parents who are more likely to influence their children about what they want their children to become. This seems like the normal thing to do, but the reality is that many young people soon find out that what they really want to do is different to what their parents and guardians want them to do. Those entering university studies quickly find out that they are either performing below standard or are disinterested in their studies. Parents and guardians must realize that many young people go with the choices they made because it is what they want to do in their lives, not what their parents or guardians want them to do. Parents and guardians should avoid over-determining a young person’s life.

We see time and again every year many students entering the university without knowing exactly what they want to do or become. “Wild Cards” is the term I use to describe this category of students. No one knows exactly what the young person will become after four years of university studies, especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences programs.

I have one advice to many young people returning to the classrooms or taking up studies at universities across the country: “Set your goals high and believe in yourself that no matter what it takes or how long it takes you will achieve your goals. Have these goals written down. Achieving your goals is a process.”

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